‘Some­times I’m so lonely it hurts’

Friends, great job, fun city liv­ing, even a con­stantly buzzing phone – Rad­hika Sang­hani isn’t what you ex­pect when you think of our grow­ing epi­demic of lone­li­ness. But that, she says, is where you’re wrong…

Grazia (UK) - - Contents - @rad­hikasang­hani

Iam Rad­hika Sang­hani, I’m 28 years old, and I am lonely. It might not look like it from the out­side. I have more than 14,000 fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia, my di­ary is full of post-work drinks and, right now, I have at least 25 What­sapp con­ver­sa­tions on the go. But, deep down, some­times I’m so lonely it hurts.

This is not easy to ad­mit. Even though 2.4 mil­lion Bri­tons suf­fer from chronic lone­li­ness, ac­cord­ing to an ONS re­port last year, none of us talk about it. In our so­ci­ety, it’s still seen as an em­bar­rass­ing taboo. This is the first time I’m talk­ing about it pub­licly, and right now, I can’t shake the fear that every­one read­ing this ar­ti­cle will think I’m com­pletely pa­thetic and judge me for it.

But the truth is that there’s a high chance many peo­ple read­ing this will be able to re­late. One in five of us is es­ti­mated to suf­fer from lone­li­ness in the UK – par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, who are more likely to have more on­line con­nec­tions than ‘real’ ones. It’s be­com­ing such an epi­demic that the Prime Min­is­ter is launch­ing a na­tional lone­li­ness strat­egy – which in­cludes dance and cook­ery lessons to help peo­ple con­nect – and for chil­dren in schools to be taught about lone­li­ness.

I felt lonely for the first time when I went to univer­sity in Lon­don. I’d grown up in the city, so I thought I’d be fine, but while all my friends went off to cam­pus univer­si­ties and quickly found big, fun groups of friends, I strug­gled. I was sur­rounded by older, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents who didn’t em­brace the life­style, and when I’d walk to a lec­ture through Ox­ford Street, I felt like just one more anony­mous per­son in a big city.

Though I did even­tu­ally make friends, it was never the typ­i­cal group I’d craved ever since I watched my first episode of Friends. I’d look at school­mates post­ing pho­tos of fancy-dress par­ties on Face­book and won­der why they were hav­ing the time of their lives while I was just watch­ing them through my phone in my PJS. What was wrong with me?

The lone­li­ness was so painful that I spent the rest of my twen­ties try­ing to avoid it. I be­friended as many peo­ple as I could – fel­low jour­nal­ist stu­dents dur­ing my Mas­ters, col­leagues at work, my boyfriend’s friends, peo­ple at my yoga class – and made sure my week was al­ways full of plans so that I’d never end up in that sit­u­a­tion again.

But two years ago, when I split up with my long-term boyfriend, the lone­li­ness came back. It was ex­cru­ci­at­ing. He’d been my best friend, the one per­son who truly un­der­stood me and, sud­denly, he was gone. The se­cond I was sin­gle, I re­alised that, bar my fam­ily, there wasn’t re­ally any­one else I had that level of close­ness with. While I had dozens of peo­ple I could mes­sage to go for a drink, I had very few friends I could call at 3am, cry­ing hys­ter­i­cally.

The pain of this re­al­i­sa­tion was tough – and a shock. Ever since my univer­sity ex­pe­ri­ence, I’d al­ways prided my­self on hav­ing lots of friends. But the re­al­ity was that with­out my boyfriend’s groups, I only had a few univer­sity friends – most of whom had since moved abroad – and my school friends, who I was slowly grow­ing apart from. 

While we still got on just as well as al­ways, our lives were chang­ing. Most of them were en­gaged and ex­cited to set­tle down and start new stages of their lives. In con­trast, I was newly sin­gle and wasn’t even sure what coun­try I wanted to live in. Our values were chang­ing, and it meant I felt lone­lier than ever.

In the end, I forced my­self to start do­ing dif­fer­ent things: sign­ing up for ac­tiv­i­ties on web­sites like Meetup, mak­ing new friends wher­ever I could, vol­un­teer­ing to visit el­derly peo­ple strug­gling with lone­li­ness, and con­nect­ing more with my friends who lived abroad. It’s all slowly pay­ing off, and I do feel like I now have more con­nec­tions in my life with peo­ple who see the world the same way I do. But these friend­ships are still new. I can’t ex­pect them to drop ev­ery­thing for me, and of­ten we end up just see­ing each other on oc­ca­sional week-nights: most peo­ple save week­ends for their part­ners or friends they’ve known for years.

It’s all bet­ter than it was, and I know I’m not ex­actly alone in my life. But the lone­li­ness is still there. The thought of a Satur­day night with no plans can fill me with fear – es­pe­cially now that I work free­lance and spend even more time alone than be­fore. The few times I’ve tried to share this feel­ing with friends, my words have been met with an awk­ward de­nial: ‘Don’t be silly, you’ve got loads of friends!’

The prob­lem is that peo­ple as­sume if you’re not ‘alone’, you’re not lonely. But that’s not al­ways the case. While lone­li­ness can be ex­ac­er­bated by be­ing alone, some of my loneli­est mo­ments have been where I’ve been sur­rounded by peo­ple I have noth­ing in com­mon with. As hu­mans, we nat­u­rally just want to be seen, un­der­stood and heard. We need to be part of a com­mu­nity, and when we don’t have that, the lone­li­ness comes creep­ing in.

More than half of Bri­tish adults find it dif­fi­cult to ad­mit to lone­li­ness, but it’s a stigma that needn’t ex­ist, and it’s one I want to help erad­i­cate. So many of us feel this way, so why do we hide it? Lone­li­ness doesn’t de­fine us – it’s just some­thing that af­fects us, and the less we talk about it, the worse the dam­age. I’ve shared my story here, and I’m go­ing to con­tinue to do so on so­cial me­dia via the hash­tag #Im­lone­ly­too. If you’re one of the one in four who can re­late to this, join me, and let’s start to break the lonely taboo.

a satur­day night with no plans can fill me with fear

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